“Couldn’t you maybe make it if you wrote cheerfuller things? That isn’t my opinion. Our mother said everything you write is morbid.”
“It’s too morbid for the St. Nicholas,” Nick said. “They didn’t say it. But they didn’t like it.”
“But the St. Nicholas is our favorite magazine.”
“I know,” said Nick. “But I’m too morbid for it already. And I’m not even grown-up.”
“When is a man grown-up? When he’s married?”
“No. Until you’re grown-up they send you to reform school. After you’re grown-up they send you to the penitentiary.”
“I’m glad you’re not grown-up then.”
“They’re not going to send me anywhere,” Nick said. “And let’s not talk morbid even if I write morbid.”
“I didn’t say it was morbid.”
“I know. Everybody else does, though.”
“Let’s be cheerful, Nickie,” his sister said. “These woods make us too solemn.”
“We’ll be out of them pretty soon,” Nick told her. “Then you’ll see where we’re going to live. Are you hungry, Littless?”
“I’ll bet,” Nick said. “We’ll eat a couple of apples.”
They were coming down a long hill when they saw sunlight ahead through the tree trunks. Now, at the edge of the timber there was wintergreen growing and some partridge-berries and the forest floor began to be alive with growing things. Through the tree trunks they saw an open meadow that sloped to where white birches grew along the stream. Below the meadow and the line of the birches there was the dark green of a cedar swamp and far beyond the swamp there were darle blue hills. There was an arm of the lake between the swamp and the hills. But from here they could not see it. They only felt from the distances that it was there.
“Here’s the spring,” Nick said to his sister. “And here’s the stones where I camped before.”
“It’s a beautiful, beautiful place, Nickie,” his sister said. “Can we see the lake, too?”
“There’s a place where we can see it. But it’s better to camp here. I’ll get some wood and we’ll make breakfast.”
“The firestones are very old,”
“It’s a very old place,” Nick said. “The firestones are Indian.”
“How did you come to it straight through the woods with no trail and no blazes?”
“Didn’t you see the direction sticks on the three ridges?”
“I’ll show them to you sometime.”
“Are they yours?”
“No. They’re from the old days.”
“Why didn’t you show them to me?”
“I don’t know,” Nick said. “I was showing off I guess.”
“Nickie, they’ll never find us here.”
“I hope not,” Nick said.
At about the time that Nick and his sister were entering the first of the slashings the warden who was sleeping on the screen porch of the house that stood in the shade of the trees above the lake was wakened by the sun that, rising above the slope of open land behind the house, shone full on his face.
During the night the warden had gotten up for a drink of water and when he had come back from the kitchen he had lain down on the floor with a cushion from one of the chairs for a pillow. Now he waked, realized where he was, and got to his feet. He had slept on his right side because he had a .38 Smith and Wesson revolver in a shoulder holster under his left armpit. Now, awake, he felt for the gun, looked away from the sun, which hurt his eyes, and went into the kitchen where he dipped up a drink of water from the pail beside the kitchen table. The hired girl was building a fire in the stove and the warden said to her, “What about some breakfast?”
“No breakfast,” she said. She slept in a cabin out behind the house and had come into the kitchen a half an hour before. The sight of the warden lying on the floor of the screen porch and the nearly empty bottle of whiskey on the table had frightened and disgusted her. Then it had made her angry.
“What do you mean, no breakfast?” the warden said, still holding the dipper.
“Nothing to eat.”